Railroads and waterways integral to ag

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When it comes to railroads and waterways, Missouri is fortunate. The state has the nation’s second- and third-largest rail hubs and 14 public ports on the Missouri and Mississippi rivers, according to MoDOT spokesman Bob Brendel.

Moving grain costs less by rail and barge, frees up highways and reduces wear and tear on roads and bridges. According to the Iowa Department of Transportation:

  • One large semi truck carries 910 bushels.
  • One jumbo hopper rail car carries 4,000 bushels.
  • One barge carries 52,500 bushels.

A few years ago, agriculture had problems finding rail cars to move grain because of higher demand from the oil industry, but railroads invested in their networks. Today, agriculture faces less competition for rail shipping services.

“Even with historic harvests the last couple of years, we’ve been able to move ag products by rail,” said Mike Steenhoek of the Soy Transportation Coalition.

But Steenhoek remains concerned about barge traffic on inland waterways—especially at deteriorating locks and dams leading to and along the Mississippi River. Thanks to lobbying by agricultural and barging organizations, Congress has approved limited federal appropriations for locks and dams. However, Steenhoek pointed out, “Improvements to the upper Mississippi and Ohio rivers are over budget and won’t be done for another five or six years. There is light at the end of the tunnel, but it’s slow coming.”

For years, MFA Incorporated has used ports along the Mississippi to barge in fertilizer and other products. For the past three summers, MFA has also moved grain by barge from Missouri River ports.

“In 2016, MFA loaded 35 barges of grain on the Missouri River, eventually ending up in the Gulf of Mexico,” said Bill Dunn, director of transportation for MFA Incorporated.

Shane Kinne, director of public policy for the Missouri Corn Growers Association, also says his group would like to see increased investment in river locks and dams, and he’s bullish on Missouri River barging.

“We’re fortunate to have the Missouri River, yet battles about management priorities hamper its use to move products,” he said. “We continue to urge the Corps of Engineers to give a higher priority to navigation and flood control.”

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